The Smother Method

This past weekend, I took the first steps in installing my new flower bed. The actual planting won’t occur until next spring, but I’m using what’s called “The Smother Method,” and that requires a little advanced planning.

cover_thewaywegardennow250.jpgThe idea behind the smother method is simple: why bother to break your back digging up grass and double digging a flower bed when you can just quietly kill the grass over several months and benefit from the organic matter the grass contributes to the soil? The method has been around forever, but I read about it recently in Katherine Whiteside’s new book The Way We Garden Now. you-grow-girl.jpgThis is one of several hip garden books designed to appeal to people who want a lovely garden without too much work. Gayla Trail’s You Grow Girl book is along the same lines, but for even younger readers. You’d never catch me gardening in a belly shirt!

The smother method is simple in theory. Layout your bed, mark it with flour or a landscape spray paint, mow inside the bed to the shortest height on your mower, then spread several sheets of wet newspaper on top of the area you want to kill, cover it with black landscape fabric, weight it down, then go inside, have a beer, and wait several months. As is often the case with my garden projects, it wasn’t quite as easy as it should have been.

First, due to important family obligations on Sunday, I needed to do the project Saturday, which was the windy, cold day of the weekend. Second, I failed to follow my father’s cardinal rule of projects: make sure you have everything you need before you start. Consequently, not only did I need to make a run to the local home improvement store to get a pile of cheap bricks and an extra roll of landscape fabric, I also had to ask several neighbors if they had extra newspapers. (Thanks Paulette, Karen, and Dave and Wendy!)

watering-bed.jpgIt took two or three times longer than expected–not to mention about five pairs of garden gloves–but I did finally get the bed covered. I added the extra step of throwing some composted manure on the area, just to give it a head start on nutrients. I also discovered the most important ingredient in the process is water–lots of water. You water the grass after it’s cut, water the newspapers before you lay them down, water it all when you are done, and I’ve watered it once since Saturday because it looked dry already.

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For aesthetic reasons, I plan to cover the bed with a mulch of reed canary grass, which is like hay but has fewer weed seeds. That last step will have to wait until the wind stops blowing. After that, I’m hoping for a nice snowy winter and an early spring.

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